But if you’re on a tight budget you’re probably looking for the best free vocal plugins that won’t break the bank.
Luckily there are plenty of vocal mixing plugins you can download at no cost from generous developers.
In this article I’ll walk through each one, explain why it’s important and recommend the best options to download for free.
Here is the essential guide to free VST plugins for vocals.
1. Vocal tuning plugins
Vocal pitch correction has become an important part of modern vocal production. Before you even start mixing you might need to use this plugin type to refine your vocals and get the right sound.
Whether you’re after subtle performance enhancement or dramatic T-Pain effects, it’s worth having a good vocal tuner in your plugin folder.
Here are some free options to consider:
Auburn Sounds Graillon is a live vocal changer that can transform vocal timbre and create robotic hard tuning sounds.
The free tier gives you access to a stripped down version of the paid plugin with pitch shifting and pitch correction.
Melda MAutoPitch is another automated pitch correction option with a simple interface. This one is capable of some more subtle effects as well as classic hard tuning.
Voloco is probably the simplest vocal tuning plugin out there. Choose the key, scale and tuning type and adjust the intensity with the correction amount.
2. Vocal EQ plugins
Once you start working on balancing the vocal in your mix you’ll need a good equalizer plugin.
This is the plugin type you’ll use to clean up issues and sculpt the frequency balance so your vocal sounds more pleasing in the mix.
But pro vocal chains often include more than one EQ. That’s why I’ve listed a few options that each play different roles in a mix:
TDR Nova is a sophisticated digital-style EQ for surgical sculpting and problem solving.
This type of EQ might appear first in your vocal effects chain if there are any frequency issues that need to be resolved before other mixing tasks.
If you need to clean up excessive low end, reduce resonances or soften clicks and artifacts, TDR Nova is a perfect choice.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ignite Amps PTeq-x is an analog style EQ based on the analog Pultec EQP-1A hardware.
This legendary vintage equalizer is many engineer’s first choice for vocal sculpting. Its gentle and musical curves are perfect for adding character, sparkle, or midrange cut.
Another classic processor many pro engineers use on vocals is the legendary EQ found in Neve mixing consoles.
Analog Obsession Britchannel brings a 1073-style channel to your DAW, complete with preamp gain modelling for extra sweet character.
3. Vocal compressor plugins
Compression is the next essential task in vocal mixing.
It means controlling the dynamics of the vocal so it sits nicely in the mix even during quiet passages.
It’s a big subject in music production so head over to our in-depth guide if you don’t have a handle on it yet.
Every compressor plugin has a unique character. Trying to list them all would take too long.
But to get you started, here are some favorites for vocal duties you can download for free:
You can never go wrong with the classic sound of an 1176 FET compressor. One of the most popular dynamics processors of all time, the 1176 is fast, punchy and perfect for controlling the aggressive transients in an active vocal performance.
You can never go wrong with the classic sound of an 1176 FET compressor.
Analog Obsession FETish is another great plugin take on this sound that’s available for free.
If there’s one compressor style that’s most known for vocals, it’s the optical LA-2A compressor.
This is the buttery smooth vintage compressor powered by photocell and tube gain stages. It’s known for its gradual attack time and gentle release that beautifully compliment a great vocal.
Once again, Analog Obsession offers a compelling take on the LA-2A that you can download for free. But with so many excellent plugins in their bundle, consider supporting them if you download them all!
4. Vocal saturation plugins
Sometimes a vocal needs something a little extra to sit properly in a mix. In those cases, saturation is another tool in your vocal mixing toolbox to consider.
This plugin type adds gentle harmonic distortion that can wake up midrange frequencies and make a sound pop in the mix.
Here are some great free saturation plugins to consider:
Klanghelm is a respected plugin manufacturer that offers stripped-down versions of their flagship plugins for free.
IVGI is a single mode from their SDRR multi-saturator.
It adds a satisfying layer of harmonic distortion that can bring a dull vocal forward in the mix
Sometimes a plugin doesn’t need to be complicated to be helpful in a mix.
That’s the case with the single parameter Softube Saturation Knob. Simply crank it up to add smooth saturation and punch.
5. Vocal de-esser plugins
De-essers are a plugin type with a very specific job in vocal mixing. They reduce the distracting effect of the ‘S’ syllable in a singer’s performance.
Certain vocalists and singing styles can create a sharp sibilance sound in combination with certain microphones.
De-esser plugins are how you reduce it. In essence, a de-esser is a compressor that only acts on a narrow range of the frequency spectrum where the sibilance occurs.
De-essers should be placed after any gain reduction or frequency boosting processors that add to the negative effects of sibilance.
Techivation is T-De-Esser is a straightforward free de-esser plugin that gets the job done.
Simply select a frequency range, set sharpness and intensity and dial in the amount of effect you need to smooth out your vocals.
6. Vocal widener plugins
Once you’ve gotten your vocals to sit in your mix, you’ll want to start working with creative effects to make them stand out.
These vocal effects are typically used in parallel on an aux return channel for a subtle blend.
One of the most satisfying send effects on vocals is chorusing, detuning or doubling.
These plugins thicken the vocal sound and make them seem wider in the stereo field.
Here some nice free options:
Add up to 6 voices of chorus and shape the sound with the onboard EQ to get the ideal vocal modulation.
Vocal doubling has a long history in music production. It’s a natural way of thickening the vocal sound by recording additional takes on top of a lead vocal.
The modulation comes from the natural imperfections in the singer’s overdubs, but you can get a similar effect with plugins like Izotope Vocal Doubler.
Plus, it’s faster than singing your parts again!
7. Vocal delay plugins
Next up are your ambience effects. These are the processors that give your vocals a sense of space and dimension in the mix.
Delay is a type of spatial effect you’ll hear in most vocal mixes. It’s the echoing repeats that fade into the background behind the main vocal.
ValhallaDSP FreqEcho is a simple but powerful delay plugin that can do more than you might think from it’s simple UI.
The frequency control lets you take it from pristine digital repeats to lo-fi filtered madness at the touch of a dial.
TAL Dub-2 is a retro-style delay that models the stylish dirty delays from old-school dub reggae.
With powerful controls for saturation and modulation, you can build any analog-style delay you can imagine.
8. Vocal reverb plugins
Finally, reverb is essential in any vocal mix. This is the effect that simulates the reflections from rigid surfaces that situate a sound in its physical environment.
The quality of the reverberation gives your brain clues about where the sound takes place.
For example, a long diffuse reverb might evoke a large concert hall while a short, ringy decay could be a tiled bathroom.
That’s why producers take pains to choose the perfect vocal reverb plugin for the mix.
Here are a few plugins to help you do it for free:
The Dragonfly bundle of free reverb plugins covers all the important styles of reverb for your mix.
From rooms and early reflections to sumptuous plates and halls, the Dragonfly suite has a smooth, sophisticated sound that’s quite impressive for a free plugin.
OrilRiver is another favorite when it comes to free reverb effects.
The latest version is updated to work on Mac and PC and delivers great sound with minimal CPU load.
TAL Reverb-2 is a classic reverb with a dreamy, enveloping sound.
If you need a larger-than-life reverb with lush diffusion, this is a great free option.
Freedom of choice
There are plenty of different approaches when it comes to mixing vocals. But most of them require plugins from a handful of these categories.
Whether you’re looking to build an entire vocal chain or just try something new, there’s a plugin on this list to help you get the sound you need.
Now that you’ve downloaded a few great free plugins, get back to your DAW and keep mixing.
Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.
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